Toward Optimizing Electrospun Nanofiber Fuel Cell Catalyst Layers: Microstructure and Pt Accessibility

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This work investigates how local ionomer/platinum (Pt) interactions and ionomer distribution in electrospun Pt/Vulcan nanofiber electrodes impact ionomer coverage, proton accessibility, and oxygen reduction reaction (ORR) performance in proton-exchange membrane fuel cells. Insights from various in situ electrochemical diagnostics were utilized in conjunction with ex situ microscopic characterization to understand how the electrode microstructure-both at the aggregate level and near the ionomer/platinum interface-is affected by electrospinning in comparison to ultrasonic spraying. The effect of the carrier polymer poly(acrylic acid) (PAA) concentration from 5-20 wt % (with respect to total ink solids) on the resulting nanofiber morphology is discussed. Electron microscopy observations and CO displacement measurements indicated that Pt/Vulcan nanofibers prepared with a higher PAA concentration (15 wt %) were conformally coated with a film of ionomer on the exterior of the fiber, which resulted in an overall lower ionomer coverage on both Pt and carbon throughout the fiber diameter. In contrast, 10 wt % PAA leads to a uniform intrafiber distribution of the ionomer within the fibers, increasing the overall ionomer coverage and proton accessibility under both wet and dry conditions. These differences in the local ionomer coverage on Pt between 10 and 15 wt % PAA were also attributed to differences in the adsorption/interaction affinities between PAA and the ionomer onto the catalyst surface in the ink using zeta potential measurements. Additional fuel cell electrochemical tests on the electrospun electrodes show improvements in ORR kinetics and high-current-density H2/air performance compared to the ultrasonically sprayed electrodes.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)3341-3351
Number of pages11
JournalACS Applied Energy Materials
Issue number4
StatePublished - 26 Apr 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-5900-79533


  • electrochemical diagnostics
  • electrospinning
  • fuel cell
  • ionomer distribution
  • nanofiber
  • Pt accessibility


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